Recovery mode

Community theater folk use the term “hell week” to describe the last week before a performance opens. It’s busy, and intense, and stressful.

We had a rehearsal last Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t the whole play. Then we had rehearsals every night, Monday through Thursday, lasting generally until 9:30 or 10 at night – and this was during a relatively-busy week for me in my day job. Then we opened Friday night and had a performance Saturday.

The play was well-received, and I think all of us were happy with opening weekend. This has been a great cast to work with – a wide variety of personalities and backgrounds, but we’ve all thrown ourselves into this play and we’ve all gotten along quite well. There’s not a weak link in the chain.

I was a little worried about how some people would take my part – I’m playing a pretty unlikable character, and I use quite a bit of mild profanity. One man from church jokingly told me in the reception line Saturday night that the bishop wanted to see me about revoking my lay speaker certification. But I think people have taken the play for what it is.

This morning, instead of going to First UMC, I went and judged a barbecue cookoff at Fellowship For Christ, a non-denominational church north of town, and then stayed for their service. I did not stick around for the church picnic afterward, though; I went to Walmart, stood in the express lane for what seemed like forever, and then came home. I tried to watch the first episode of “The Roosevelts” but fell asleep through most of it. Later in the day, Vickie Hull from church posted a Facebook photo from Normandy Lake, where First UMC was having its annual Galilean Service and picnic. I had completely forgotten about that – and, of course, I wasn’t in church this morning to be reminded of it.

That’s OK, though. I needed to recuperate today. I did not walk, I did not study my lines, I did not do much of anything once I got home.

Normally, you have one rehearsal, called a “pickup” rehearsal, between the two weekends of a community theater production. We’re going to have two, on Wednesday and Thursday nights, because we love you, the audience, so much. I have a couple of early-evening commitments – a funeral visitation Monday, and a county meeting Tuesday – until then, but I’ll still have tonight and most of the next two evenings to try to catch up on unfinished business.

If you’re in the area, and able to come and see us next weekend, I think you’d really enjoy the play. You can make reservations by calling 931-684-8359 or visiting The Fly Arts Center Monday, Tuesday or Thursday from 11 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

A man with true grits

I have used a pre-mixed breader for fried chicken made by a company called House-Autry, but when I was in Food Lion a week or two ago I found something of theirs I’d never seen before: Dinner Grits.

As the name implies, these are boxes of grits in several savory flavors, made to be combined with shrimp or some other meat and used as a main dish.

They have Broccoli & Cheddar; Parmesan & Herb; Creole; Cheddar Cheese; and Roasted Garlic & Butter flavors.

The packaging for most of the flavors emphasizes shrimp & grits, but when I saw the product I had already added some hot smoked sausage to my shopping cart, thanks to a coupon from Food Lion’s in-store coupon kiosk. Smoked sausage (or andouille, on the rare occasions when I can get it) is my go-to ingredient when I make Zatarain’s jambalaya, and I figured the smoked sausage would probably go well with the creole flavor even though it wasn’t one of the suggested ingredients on the box.

I have to say, it didn’t turn out badly

start planning

Regardless of when a community holds its actual event, the American Cancer Society Relay For Life year runs from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31. The Relay website has now been reset for the new year, which means it’s now open for people – like you – to create and join teams, or to contribute to people who have.

In Bedford County, our Relay For Life event won’t take place until June 5-6 of next year. Why would anyone want to form a team so early?

It’s true that some of our teams may not organize until some time after the first of the year, or even in the spring. But part of the fun of being in Relay is that it’s really a year-round thing. Our best, most successful teams here in Bedford County have fund-raisers at various points throughout the year. That means they have fewer other Relay fund-raisers with which to compete, and that they can do more, raise more, and have more fun.

First, let’s backtrack for those of you who don’t know what Relay is or how it works. Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society’s grass-roots fundraising program. The focus of that program in each community is an actual overnight event – like the one which I mentioned would be June 5-6, 2015, in Bedford County. Relay is not a run – although it started that way – and it’s not any sort of race. The event is held around some sort of oval track (often at a high school stadium, although ours is on a horse show track). Various teams of walkers stay on the track for the duration of the event – in Bedford County’s case, that’s 12 hours, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Each team must have at least one person walking at any given time during the event; that’s what makes it a relay, because team members take turns walking for their team.

The walking is only part of what goes on Relay night. There are many other festival-style aspects to the event. Each team typically operates some sort of concession stand, selling food or T-shirts or pony rides or what have you. There are also special ceremonies and observances, such as the Survivor Lap which opens the event by honoring cancer survivors, or the goosebump-inducing Luminaria Ceremony which takes place some time after dark. In the wee hours of the morning, there are picnic-style games to keep everyone’s energy level up.

So some of the Relay money is raised on Relay night, by the concessions I mentioned in that last paragraph. But most of it is raised in advance of Relay. Teams can raise money in a variety of ways. Individual team members can ask friends or family for money on their own, a process that’s made easier with e-mail and social media tools at the Relay web site. But most teams put heavy emphasis on team fund-raisers – yard sales, bake sales, T-shirt sales, poker runs, pageants, candygram sales, flamingo placement, and any number of other events limited only by the imagination.

That’s why it’s a good idea to form teams early. The earlier you get started, the more and/or better fund-raisers you’ll be able to plan, and the more money you’ll be able to raise.

What happens to that money? Glad you asked.

So, who can form a Relay team? Just about anybody. We have workplace-based teams (some officially sanctioned by the employer, others unofficial), church-based teams, school-based teams, and teams of people who have been brought together because they’re friends and family of a particular cancer patient, past or present. It’s up to you. There’s no official team size, either. You need enough people to have a walker on the track at all times, and probably to operate some simple concession at the same time. But how you divide all that is entirely up to your team, and you can bring in all sorts of friends and family members even if, for example, your company only has a handful of actual salaried employees.

If you’re here in Bedford County, go to http://relayforlife.org/bedfordtn for more information. Otherwise, go to http://relayforlife.org and search for the Relay event in your area.

This program has meant an awful lot to me since my mother’s passing from pancreatic cancer in 2010. I am a member of the organizing committee for the Bedford County event. (We’re treated like a Relay team in terms of fund-raising, and we have our own year-round committee fundraisers, but we don’t actually walk during the event because we’re busy putting on the event.) I had thought, up until the past few days, that I might have to miss the 2015 Relay due to a family commitment, and that thought really saddened me. But the conflict has been resolved, and I look forward to being there for all 12 hours (plus setup and teardown) in 2015.

Will you be there with me, at least for part of that time? Form a team, or join an existing team. I know cancer has touched people you love and care about, and maybe it’s touched you as an individual. This is a way you can respond. Our Relay motto is “Celebrate, Remember, Fight Back,” and we try to do all three in equal measure during a Relay event. Please think about joining us.

He who hesitates….

Why did the chicken cross the road?
why-did-the-chicken
The actual question should be why this chicken didn’t cross the road. When I walked out to my car to go to lunch, about 11:15, he was standing right as you see him here, motionless, as cars swerved around him. For my readers from out of town, we have a Tyson processing plant in Shelbyville, and a number of tractor-trailers filled with chickens drive past the T-G every day. This bird probably escaped from one of those somehow.

Just as I was taking this photo with my smartphone, a man in a pickup truck, no doubt thinking to himself “¡Pollo gratis!”, pulled over. He walked over and grabbed the chicken.

Someone, I suspect, will be eating well tonight.

daddy’s dyin’ … orville’s rehearsin’

The last play I was in was “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Show” over the holidays. But when I first saw a notice for auditions for “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?” at the Fly Arts Center, I didn’t even think about auditioning.

You see, production dates were in late September – and I was planning on taking a mission trip in early September, right when some of the most intense rehearsals would no doubt be taking place. It would simply not be possible to prepare for, and do justice to, a play and a mission trip in the same short period.

Then, last Tuesday, the mission trip got put off until some undetermined time in 2015, due to the current Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Please continue to keep the people of West Africa in your prayers.

Then, I saw a notice for one last audition for the play, this past Sunday. It was already a busy weekend for me, what with judging two chili cookoffs and attending a church ice cream social. But I figured I might at least go and try auditioning for the play.

I have gotten the part of Orville.

The play, by Del Shores, is a family comedy set in Texas. Buford Turnover (who will be played by my Times-Gazette co-worker Martin Jones, with whom I’ve worked several times before) has suffered a stroke, and isn’t expected to live long. The various family members come together, and immediately start getting on each other’s nerves and (as the play’s title indicates) looking at the impending death through the lenses of self-interest. The humor is a little like the “Mama’s Family” segments on “The Carol Burnett Show” – back-and-forth insults and over-the-top portrayals.

The play was made into a 1990 movie featuring Beau Bridges as Orville. I have not seen this, and I do not want to see it until after our production.

This will be a new experience for me. Although I haven’t read the full play, and won’t get my book until some time tomorrow, the description of Orville at the publisher’s web site, and the scenes I read during the audition, make it clear that Orville is the least-likable character I’ve ever played. He’s a redneck garbage collector, kind of mean, mean to his wife and to the other family members gathered together at their father’s bedside. Now, I believe that all of the characters get at least a little redemption as they come together at the end of the play, but this will still be quite a different experience from any role I’ve played before. It’s a good challenge for an actor.

I have to find the humanity in Orville, and the playwright is clear about the fact that he considers these to be rounded characters, not stereotypes, so hopefully he’ll give me something to work with in that regard.

There is a little language in the play – the worst thing I heard in Sunday’s excerpts was a four-letter term for excrement.

As I said, T-G printing press operator Martin Jones plays the family patriarch, Buford. Since I had only Sunday’s auditions to go by, I thought I was competing with Martin for the part of Orville. But Martin wanted the part of Buford and had already read for it extensively at the earlier auditions. I told Martin today that since I played his father in “Come Blow Your Horn,” it’s only fair that he should now take a turn playing my father.

Retired T-G editor Kay Rose is also in the play, in the part of feisty Mama Wheelis. Kay has been in a number of local theater productions but I’ve never been in a play with her before, so this will be fun as well.

Production dates are: September 19, 20, 26 & 27 at 7 p.m. and September 28 at 2 p.m. All performances will be at the Fly Arts Center, just off the square in Shelbyville. You can call 931-684-8359 or visit The Fly Arts Center Monday, Tuesday or Thursday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. for tickets.

 

The hat that was not to be

A Mountain T.O.P. friend of mine is friends with a fellow who has started a company making high-tech ball caps. There are two kinds. One runs on wafer-style batteries and has a little place on the brim where you can plug in an optional LED light. The other kind, a little more elaborate, has a built-in battery that you can charge up through a USB port and then, in turn, use to provide backup or emergency power to your smartphone or other mobile device.

The Mountain T.O.P. friend knew that I reviewed tech products for the newspaper and contacted me recently to get my name and address so that his friend could send me the hats to try out and review.

They arrived earlier in the week – and while I would normally have wanted to put them through their paces and write a proper review, I was in dire need of a topic for my tech column so I wrote something hasty basically explaining how they worked. It wasn’t a review in the traditional sense of the word, just a story.

I was happy to think about taking the backup-battery hat to Mountain T.O.P., where it would be useful for keeping my phone charged (although I also have another, relatively new, backup battery for that purpose).

Let me explain to you something about how the backup-battery hat works. There are two different pieces that store in the hat band which you use for charging up the hat. One is a male-to-male USB cable, about six inches long. The other is a little plastic dongle with flashing blue lights. It has a female USB connection on one end, and a male micro-USB connection on the other.

When I first hooked up the hat, one end of the USB cable felt a little strange. The blue lights on the dongle flashed for a long time, to the point where I finally e-mailed the hatmaker to ask how long the hat was supposed to take to charge. He gave me some suggestions, but when I went to hook the hat back up the silver piece pulled out of one end of the USB cable. That’s why it had felt loose; it was loose. I e-mailed him back and he promised to send me a replacement 6-inch cable by U.S. mail.

This morning, at the newspaper, one of my co-workers handed me an empty envelope (other than a business card) with a little hole on one end. I can only assume that some mail-handling machine had grabbed hold of the end of the envelope and squeezed out that little cable like toothpaste from a tube. In any case, there was no cable. Again, I e-mailed the hatmaker. I told him I was going to try to find a USB-to-USB cable on my own.

I e-mailed my local computer guru, a man who I know has a lot of spare parts and cables. Sure enough, he found me a long USB-to-USB cable. It wasn’t small enough to fit in a hatband, of course, but it could easily be used for charging up the hat so that I could take it to Mountain T.O.P. this weekend. I rushed over to his place and grabbed the cable. He’s going to have one of his students try to solder the original cable and see if it can be fixed.

Well, when I got home just now I tried hooking the hat back up to finish charging it. The blue lights didn’t come on at all. I didn’t know why, so I unhooked everything.

That, so help me, is when the micro-USB end of the charging dongle popped off.

I swear up and down to you I have not treated any of this equipment (some of which is suggested for use by hunters and campers) roughly or subjected it to anything out of the ordinary. And, of course, the cable being lost in the mail was out of my hands entirely. I’m not about to try to get back in touch with the hatmaker, though, because I’m sure he would assume all of this is my fault, just as I’m assuming its all his suppliers’ fault.

I still have the battery-operated hat, and I can take that one to Mountain T.O.P. and use it to read songsheets and my Bible during evening worship outdoors. But it won’t help keep my smartphone charged. (And the battery-operated hat is camouflage, not really my style.)

Oh, well.

road trip

OK. I had a really crappy first part of the week. There was a special event that I wanted to attend – and thought I deserved to be able to attend – and I couldn’t go because I couldn’t afford it. And I was primarily mad at myself, but also projected some of that anger onto a couple of innocent people who I (narcissistically) thought should have been more concerned than they were about my absence, perhaps to the point of calling me about it and getting me to admit the back story.

But if the first part of the week was a low point, this weekend more than made up for it, and exorcised the demons that had been plaguing me.

Here’s the back story:

Many years back, when my brother Michael was single and living in the Dallas area, he starred in a production of “Harvey” which, by sheer coincidence, opened on his birthday. Mom, Dad, my sister and I drove down secretly, watched the play from the back row, and then surprised him afterward. It’s been a beloved family story ever since.

Mike is now married, has two kids, and lives in Fayetteville, N.C. He’s gotten back into theater lately; he was supposed to be the lead in a big production last summer but broke his foot. This summer, he played Leonato in “Much Ado About Nothing” and also had a part in a comedy called “A Company Of Wayward Saints.” Dad wanted to go and surprise Michael again the way we surprised him in Texas. So we’d been making plans for the trip for some time, without telling anyone in North Carolina.

Then, a week or two ago, Mike called my father. My gifted nephew had gotten a chance to go to Space Camp, in Huntsville, Ala., at the last minute and at a deep discount. Mike and Kelly had decided that Kelly would drive the boy down (since Mike would be busy with the play) and then Mike would drive down a week later, after the play had closed, to pick him up. Mike asked Dad if it would be all right for Kelly and the boy to spend the night with him on Saturday, June 14.

That’s right; of all the days in the year they might call and ask to stay at Dad’s house, they picked the night when Dad, and the rest of us, planned to be in Fayetteville, N.C.

Dad covered quickly, telling Michael that he and Ms. Rachel had already made plans to go out of town that weekend (true!), but that Kelly and the boy were more than welcome to use his house while he was gone.

A few days later, we surreptitiously got in touch with Kelly and filled her in on what was really going on.

Friday, Dad, Ms. Rachel, Elecia and I got an early start and made it to Fayetteville by about 5:30. We had originally hoped to catch Michael before he left for his Friday night performance, but we missed him. When we pulled up to the house in Fayetteville, no one was home. Kelly and the kids were out shopping, and Mike was already at the theater. We returned a little later to see Kelly and the kids, while Mike was taking the stage.

Later that night, after Mike’s Friday night performance, Kelly got him to call my father and Dad revealed that we were, in fact, in Fayetteville. Mike was genuinely surprised and now says he’ll never trust any of us again.

The next morning, Kelly and the boy made a very early start for Tennessee. We spent a pleasant day seeing the sights of Fayetteville with Michael and the girl. In the afternoon, we had a little down time, and I got to relax in the Days Inn pool, which I had pretty much to myself. Then, that night, with the girl in the hands of a babysitter, we went to the play.

I found it wonderful. “A Comedy of Wayward Saints,” by George Herman, is a terrific play, and the Gilbert Theater cast, including my brother, was terrific. It starts out as a wacky comedy about a commedia dell’arte troupe trying desperately to impress a nobleman who can give them the money to get home. But in the second act, the wacky comedy gives way to a warmer but still light-hearted exploration of the nature of humanity. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This morning, we started the nine-hour drive home, arriving about 4 p.m. Shelbyville time. Kelly, meanwhile, dropped the boy off in Huntsville at noon today and then headed to Fayetteville from there – no telling if we crossed paths at some point.

It was a great trip, a great play, and a great chance to spent some time with the family over Father’s Day weekend.

a good weekend

I didn’t post about Relay yesterday because I was focusing on the video.  (I admit it. I was kind of proud of how the video turned out.)

Anyway, I think we were all pleased with how it turned out. We have not yet met our (ambitious) 2014 goal, but the Relay year runs until Aug. 31 and some of our teams still have fund-raisers planned. We had a great turnout Friday night, and everything went smoothly. There were clouds, it was breezy during our setup hours on Friday afternoon, and we worried a little about rain, but the worst we got was a couple of light sprinkles – not even enough to make you put up an umbrella. (Unfortunately, the weather forecast was enough to prevent the rock-climbing wall from arriving in the first place.

My first Relay was in 2011, and since I wasn’t a part of the county organizing committee I didn’t get there until an hour or two before opening ceremonies. That was a 12-hour Relay. My second, in 2012, was an 18-hour Relay, and I had to arrive earlier to help with setup. In both cases, I got sleepy in the wee hours of the morning but then caught a second wind and finished well. Last year, I never got that second wind, and I was groggy alll through the morning.

This year, possibly due to the first 5-Hour Energy I’ve ever consumed, but also possibly due to weight loss and more regular exercise, I did much, much better. We went back to a 12-hour format this year, so I didn’t have to stay as long as I did last year. But even taking the different schedule into account, I felt noticeably better and got to enjoy the overnight fun much more this year than last year.

Speaking of fitness, here’s the bad news. Remember that Fitbit that I thought I lost at last year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration but which turned up in my car seven months later? Well, I lost it again. And I’m certain it’s not in the car; I remember having it on at Relay, thinking about how many steps I was going to register when I got home and synched it with the computer. Now, I’ll never know.